Joe is the Focus at Media Day

All eyes were on Penn State's Hall of Fame coach at Beaver Stadium Thursday as the Nittany Lions met the press for the first time during the preseason.

The question on Penn State's Media Day, as on a lot of days anymore, is this: How does Joe look?

That's been the primary concern since Joe Paterno had his offseason health issues: How does he look?

And the truth is, he looks every one of his 83 years. While he is nicely tanned after making his annual trip to the Jersey Shore, he's a little more stooped, a little more gaunt. He speaks a little more deliberately.

But he still has his moments, no question about it.

“I have one request,” he told the throng of reporters gathered in the Beaver Stadium Media Room Thursday afternoon. “Please don't ask me if I'm gonna die.”

The reference was to a similar question he had been asked at the Big Ten Media Days, and drew the obligatory laugh.

From there he plunged gamely onward. There was, of course, nothing much to say about who the quarterback might be this year. Still way too early for that. And the only real news Paterno had to offer was that wide receiver Curtis Drake, who suffered a leg injury in practice earlier in the week, will miss six to eight weeks.

“Drake's one of the better football players we have,” Paterno said. “That's a big loss for us.”

The coach also said that it is highly unlikely Chaz Powell, who moved from receiver to cornerback in the spring, will return to the offensive side of the ball in the wake of Drake's injury.

Beyond that, Paterno expressed concern about the offensive line (“We've gotta get tougher, and I think we will”) and offered frank assessments of specific players, like defensive tackles Devon Still (“When he first got here, he was a little lazy”) and Brandon Ware (“He's been a goof-off academically”).

That was the old Joe. But there were times questions had to be repeated, and times he looked disengaged.

Asked if he has to delegate more responsibility to his assistants, he said he still has plenty of input in meetings.

But, he added, “I don't coach on the field (during practice) as much as I used to. They're doing most of the coaching.”

Later he talked up the staff some more.

“Somebody asked me before, are they carrying me?” he said. “They probably are carrying me.”

The news conference lurched to a conclusion a few minutes later, and Paterno headed out the door and into Beaver Stadium, where his players were waiting in the stands to shoot a team picture. Once that was done, Paterno posed with the freshmen, then the seniors, then his fellow coaches.

Finally he was done. Somebody handed him his sportcoat, and he slowly walked out the South Tunnel, slipped behind the wheel of his white Mercedes and drove off.

Another season awaits.

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